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December 22 2011

Developer Year in Review: 2011 Edition

This year brought us triumphs and tragedies, new companies born and old ones burning out. Before DWiR takes a holiday hiatus, we're going to look back on the high points of the year that was.

Mobile gains ground

Smartphones

Lost in all the news about lawsuits, patents and speculation was the overarching theme for mobile this year: it has become the primary software platform for many users. The desktop may not be dead, but it's definitely showing its age, and as smartphones and tablets become ubiquitous, the amount of time the average consumer spends in front of a keyboard is declining rapidly.

The good news for software developers is that the maturing app store model has opened up software distribution to a much larger pool of potential software makers. The bad news is that it has also drastically reset the expectation of how much consumers are willing to spend for apps, although prices are climbing marginally. A $1 app can make you a lot of money if you can get millions of users to buy it, but it won't even get you a nice night on the town if you're writing for a niche market.

With RIM's Blackberry market share doing a good imitation of an Olympic high diver, and the new Windows mobile platform not yet gaining significant traction, 2011 was essentially a two-horse race, with Android passing iOS for the first time in new sales. Apple is crying all the way to the bank, though, as the profit margin on iOS devices is pushing Apple's bottom line to new highs and overall unit sales continue to climb steadily. At least for the moment, the smartphone market is not a zero-sum game.

This year also marked the release of Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS) for Android and iOS 5 for the iPhone/iPad/iPod. ICS is the first version of Android that is making serious efforts to tame the tablet situation, but there have been widespread complaints that carriers are slow to pick it up, even in new models. Objective-C developers are finally getting to say goodbye to old friends like retain, release and autorelease, as Apple rolled out the automatic reference count compiler. Few tears were shed for their passing.


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The year of HTML5

In future years, 2011 will be remembered as the year Adobe put up the white flag and joined the HTML5 bandwagon, which started an industry death-watch for Flash. Microsoft also sent out signals that Silverlight was being put out to pasture and that it planned to embrace HTML5 as well.

The stampede to adopt HTML5 was prompted, in part, by the increasing robustness of the standard and the implementations of the standard in browsers. It also didn't hurt that it is the only Rich Internet Application platform that will run on the iPad.

Dru-who and Ha-what?

Two packages with funny names became the hot skills to have on your resume this year. Drupal continued to gain popularity as a content management platform, while Apache Hadoop was the must-have technology for data crunching. By the end of the year, developers with experience in either were in short supply and could basically write their own tickets.

Languages emerge, but few stick

It seems like every year, there's a new batch of languages that promise to be the next Big Thing. In past years, the crown has been worn by Scala, Erlang, Clojure and others. But when it comes time to start a project or hire developers, skills in new languages are rarely high on the list of priorities for companies.

This year, Google joined the fun, promoting both Go and Dart. Like most new languages, they face an uphill battle, even with Google's massive resources behind them. Few have what it takes to fight the institutional inertia of existing development decisions and to join winners such as Ruby in the pantheon of well-adopted emerging languages.

Some general thoughts to end the year

The computer industry, more than most others, can make you feel very old at a relatively young age. I've been hacking, in one form or another, for nearly 35 years, and the technology I used in my youth seems like it belongs in another universe.

The flip side of this is that I'm constantly amazed by what science and technology brings forth on a seemingly daily basis. Whether it's having a conversation with a device I can hold in the palm of my hand or watching the aurora light up the heavens, seen from above by occupants of the ISS, I often seem to be living in the future I read about as a kid.

As a species, we may be prone to pettiness, violence, willful ignorance and hatred, but once in a while, we manage to pull ourselves out of the muck and do something insanely great. Let's attempt to honor the vision of an admittedly imperfect man we lost this year and try to make 2012 insanely greater.

Got news?

Please send tips and leads here.

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December 01 2011

Commerce Weekly: Cyber Monday lives up to hype

Here's what caught my attention in the commerce space this week.

US online shoppers spent $1.25 billion on Cyber Monday

Screenshot from Amazon's iOS appWe knew we were going to spend a lot of money over the four days from Black Friday through Cyber Monday; all the TV commercials, digital ads, and forecasters told us so. But no one knew just how much until it was over — and no one saw how much of the spending was going to happen online. After it was over, when the purchase buttons had been clicked and the UPS trucks were rolling, Cyber Monday (Nov. 28) turned out to be the heaviest U.S. online spending day in history, according to ComScore. Shoppers spent $1.25 billion online, 22% more than on Cyber Monday 2010, the only other billion-dollar-plus day in online spending history. This year's Cyber Monday splurge capped a month of intensifying sales: more than $15 billion spent online since the beginning of the month.

If online sales growth was healthy, the growth in mobile sales was practically supernatural. PayPal Mobile reported a 552% increase in global mobile payment volume on Cyber Monday 2011 compared to the same day a year earlier. Of course, percentages are bound to look big when the baseline starts out low, and mobile payments have come a long way in the past 12 months. Claudia Lombana, PayPal shopping specialist, wrote on the company's blog that mobile sales volumes were 17% above those on Black Friday and volume was heaviest between 2pm and 3pm PST — suggesting that, on the East Coast at least, shoppers waited until the workday was (mostly) done.

So, does all this activity mean that consumer confidence has returned and we're about to buy our way out of the economic doldrums? Not exactly, writes Sheyna Steiner on Bankrate.com. Bankrate's November Financial Security Index reports that 42% of Americans say they plan to spend less this holiday season while only 10% expect to spend more. Black Friday and Cyber Monday mania may be less about kicking off an orgy of spending than they are about seeking the best bargains to stretch limited funds.

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A chat with a Groupon Now merchant

GrouponGroupon saw a big boost over the Black Friday-Cyber Monday weekend, too, reporting a 500% increase over last year for those four days. It's a little hard to keep track of whether Groupon is hot or not. Its Nov. 4 IPO blew past critics, raking in $700 million to become the biggest initial public offer since Google's in 2004. But within a few weeks, it saw its share price drop from its $26.10 opening-day closing price to $15.24 earlier this week. A boost in holiday sales could improve its standing, but many analysts are still saying the shares should be priced lower.

Whether Groupon's share price rises or falls, investors would do well to focus not on on its over-hyped daily deals, but on Groupon Now, the company's real-time discount service that lets merchants control when and how to offer deals. To find out more about it, I spoke with Dennis Cavanaugh the owner of 5 & Diner in Mesa, Ariz. Cavanaugh, who started out with a daily deal earlier this year, says he likes the flexibility of Groupon Now better. For example, he was able to increase one coupon offer of $10 for $20 worth of food up to $12 for the same offer and noted that there was no drop-off in uptake — so, he kept it there. "I can pause it, unpause it, change the hours of redemption, all the do-it-yourself things," he says, "and I don't have to call someone in Chicago. It's all in real time. There's no lead-time required on the decisions."

Cavanaugh says that Groupon Now customers are also more likely to spend over the coupon amount than customers who bring in coupons clipped from a newspaper — $6 to $8 more on average. He suspects it has something to do with the fact that they're affluent enough to afford a smartphone. And he notices that the Groupon Now offers bring in customers from further afield than the 3- to 5-mile radius that most of his customers come from.

Cavanaugh says he probably wouldn't make another daily deal offer: "I like Groupon Now better. Groupon gave us a huge surge in its booking period, but you can't control any aspect of it once it's out there. It was my first try, and I didn't know if the coupon was priced right. I know a lot more now. I think [Groupon Now] is a better tool for me to draw people in."

RIM pursues a mobile wallet

BlackBerry Curve 9380Research in Motion announced two more Blackberry devices that support near field communication (NFC) and RIM's small mobile-wallet trial with Telefónica, the Spanish telecom.

The Blackberry Bold 9790 and Curve 9380 join a few existing models that support NFC wireless communication, the leading contender for tap-and-pay wireless technology in mobiles. The RIM trial isn't at the scale of what Isis is planning in the coming year, let alone the real-world capabilities of Google Wallet on Sprint's Nexus S phones. At Telefónica's headquarters in Madrid, 350 employees will get Blackberries that let them make purchases and gain access to the company's buildings.

It's not exactly tap-and-pay on the Metro, but it's a start — one that RIM is hoping will slow its sliding market share to Android and Apple.

Got news?

News tips and suggestions are always welcome, so please send them along.


If you're interested in learning more about the commerce space, check out DevZone on x.com, a collaboration between O'Reilly and X.commerce.


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December 15 2010

Developer Year in Review: Mobile

With just eight more shopping days until Festivus, it's time to look back on the year that was. Here at the Week in Review, I'll be breaking it down into three segments, starting this week with the year in mobile. Upcoming posts will look at programming languages and operating systems.

All your smartphones are belong to Google and Apple

Microsoft and RIM pushed out new releases of their mobile operating systems and new handsets to run them. But in terms of market impact, their efforts were like filling the Grand Canyon with a garden hose. This year belonged jointly to Apple and Google, or iOS and Android if you want.

Apple succeeded in doing what companies have been failing to do for years: put a popular and usable tablet computer into the hands of consumers. The iPad, which garnered quizzical looks when first launched, is now on course to take a major slice out of the netbook and laptop market. It's also spawned a gaggle of me-too tablet offerings running Android (and now, reportedly, Windows). Apple also finally made iOS devices truly usable with iOS 4.2, which brought multitasking to the masses (where "the masses" are defined as people with an iPhone 3GS or better ...)

Meanwhile, Google's Android ate up the market, although the lack of a single identifiable branding strategy tends to make all those Android handsets hard to spot in the wild. I can name all the iOS devices, but I sure as heck can't name all the devices running Android. If you believe that many vendors make for better diversity, this is a good thing. If you believe that many vendors make for a porting nightmare, your perspective on Android is a little different.

I sue you, you sue me, we all pay a legal fee

The computer industry in general suffered from a spate of intellectual property litigation this year, but boy oh boy, did the mobile space get it in spades. At this point, the only effective way you could keep track of mobile lawsuits is with a heat map (and Randall Munroe over at xkcd is probably working on one ...)

The Supreme Court's clear-as-mud decision in the Bilski patent case left everyone confused about what you can and can't sue over. For the moment, the only people benefiting from this orgy of lawsuits are the lawyers on retainer.

The year of the app store

Apple's App Store has been hugely successful at attracting independent (and large) mobile developers. Not surprisingly, everyone and their sister has copied Apple's model. Android put up an app store without Apple's restrictive gatekeeping, and Blackberry put up a store that is (reportedly) harder to get into than Apple's.

Apple also (finally) clarified the criteria for getting into their store. And in a sign that pigs will soon become airborne, Apple approved apps for Google Voice and Google Latitude.

In a way, the App Store model has finally legitimized the freeware/shareware model. It's also offered small and independent developers a way to get visibility and a sales channel for their products. With the App Store model moving to desktop software next year (as Apple introduces the Mac App Store), it will be interesting to see if Microsoft follows suit.

That's it for this week. I'll take a look at the year in programming languages in the next edition. Suggestions are always welcome, so please send tips or news here.


August 04 2010

Arabische Staaten wollen Blackberry verbieten

Saudiarabien und die Vereinigten Arabischen Emirate (VAE) haben nach Agenturmeldungen angekündigt, die
verschlüsselten Dienste der Blackberry-Smartphones des Herstellers RIM zu verbieten.

Da die Kommunikation über den Blackberry abhörsicher sei, gefährde dies die nationale Sicherheit der Staaten, so die Begründung. Das bedeutet dann allerdings auch, dass diese Abhörstaaten gegen andere Smartphones wie dem iPhone – das ohnehin nicht als abhörsicher gilt – in diesem Punkt keine Bedenken haben.

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